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Birth Registration – a weapon for fighting defilement and child marriage

Though the Birth Registration Certificate is a major tool for reducing poverty, fighting defilement and child marriage, many parents in Ghana particularly in the rural settings do not make it a priority for their newborn babies.

According to the UNICEF and the Birth and Death Registry, more than four in 10 children in Ghana are not registered at birth. And even when children are registered, many still do not have birth certificates accounting for about 15 per cent of registered children below the age of five. Birth registration rates in Ghana have stagnated over the past years, consistently leaving out about 35 per cent of all new-born babies.

For instance, a research conducted by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection in 2014 indicates that only 58.3 per cent children in the Upper East Region (UER) have their births registered.

Also a baseline survey conducted by the Rural Initiatives for Self -Empowerment-Ghana (RISE-Ghana), a local non-governmental organization (NGO) in the year 2015 in the UER, revealed that many parents are not paying attention to the birth registration making it difficult prosecute defilement and child marriage cases as Judges often find it difficult to determine the ages victims.

In an attempt to find the cause, the important development component was not patronized, most community members said they were not aware of the need. At separate durbars at the communities in the Kassena-Nankana West and the Garu Districts of the Region, the community members said they did not know the relevance of birth registration and were also not aware that it was an offense to give out their underage daughters for marriage. Accessibility of the Registry was also a hindrance.

The durbars were organized by RISE-Ghana with support from UNICEF Ghana, to help address the set of 12 behaviours which include birth certificates, child protection, child marriage, early enrollment, hand washing among others things through strong community mobilization efforts.

Speaking to the Ghana News Agency (GNA) in an interview about the non- registered babies, the Deputy Regional Coordinator of the Domestic Violence Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service, ASP Veronica Obese, explained that it makes it very difficult to handle defilement and child marriage cases in the courts.

“We cannot prosecute many perpetrators of such cases because the ages of majority of the victims cannot be determined as they have no birth certificates. As at now we have forwarded a number of such cases to the Attorney General Department for legal advice”, the Deputy Regional Coordinator of DOVVSU told the GNA.

The non-registration of children to determine their actual ages is a major challenge confronting the justice system since the Judges presiding over those cases often find it difficult to determine the ages of the victims. This is not isolated in the Region but cut across the other Regions and calls for a radical approach to confront the issue.

It should be noted that birth registration exercise remains a major tool for fighting defilement and child marriage cases and also the legal acknowledgement of a child’s existence. It is also a weapon that influences policy formulation and the implementation programmes relating to the better growth of the child.

It is fundamental to the realization of a number of rights including the access to health care, school enrolment, child labour, forced marriages before girls eligibility for marriage, enforcement of laws relating to minimum age for employment, child labour and hazardous work.

Additionally, it also ensures that children in conflict with the law are given special protection and not treated as adults, protects young people from under-age military service or conscription, protects children from harassment by police or other law enforcement officials, secures the child’s right to a nationality at the time of birth or later, protects trafficked children who are eventually repatriated and reunited with family.

Research has shown that where individuals have not been provided with adequate citizenship rights through birth registration, they are not able to fully asset their civic, political, legal and social identities are constrained. The absence of civic citizenship right has positive association with inability of individuals to claim full fundamental human rights. In the same vein, political participation such as voting cannot be fully ascertained or granted to non-citizens whilst social rights, which validate access to health care, education, pension and poverty reduction benefits, could also be compromised.

It should also to be noted that in the broad framework of the Sustainable Development Goals, (SDGs) availability of quality data to monitor progress is cardinal. The goals, which directly affect children are universal primary education and improved child mortality. However, without reliable data on children, it would be difficult for countries to monitor, plan and intervene to achieve the goals. Data on births and deaths is one of the best demographic tools for gathering information for population health monitoring.

At best, the desire to improve development through health, education, social security among others things may “remain a political rhetoric of human rights and academic discourse of entitlements”

Another significant point that calls for the seriousness to be attached to the exercise is that Article 24(2) of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states “every child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have a name”.

Ironically at the international front, Ghana was the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa that ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. After more than a decade, coverage of birth registration in the country is still low.

In Ghana the Birth and Death Registry under the auspices of the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development has the core mandate to conduct the exercise by providing accurate and reliable information on all births and deaths, in the country for socio-economic development through the registration and certification.

In conclusion whilst commending the UNICEF for supporting other Organizations like RISE-Ghana to engage in sensitization programmes in communities in the UER on the need to register newborn babies, the effort should be extended to the rural communities to enable to patronize the exercise.

Families and communities need to be made aware of the importance of birth registration, and registration should be compulsory. Sometimes parents and communities either fail to appreciate how important it is for their child to be registered or are suspicious about the motives behind it. The media can play an important role in encouraging parents to register their children.

To improve birth registration, the financial cost has been scrapped to encourage registration within the first 12 months after birth. There is the need for Government to commit more resources to register every child without discrimination. Birth registration should be universal and free.

Source: GNA

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